For Tucson’s professional Indoor Football League team, Sunday night was sweet.
The Tucson Sugar Skulls’ debut in the Indoor Football League ended with a 64-44 road win over the San Diego Strike Force (0-2) at Pechanga Arena.
“It feels good. I’m happy for the guys first and foremost. They’ve been working their tails off up until this point sweating and going through camp together to build that bond so I’m just really happy for them,” Sugar Skulls head coach Marcus Coleman said.
“It’s the first one of hopefully many for the Tucson Sugar Skulls and we just gotta keep stacking the Ws.”
Despite technical difficulties with the IFL’s YouTube game broadcast that left fans wondering how the Sugar Skulls were performing, Tucson (1-0) got off to a blazing start after trailing San Diego 3-0 early.
Sugar Skulls running back Mike Jones rushed into the end zone for the first score of franchise history, which gave Tucson a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. Jones finished the first half with two rushing touchdowns.
On the following possession, Sugar Skulls defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr. picked up a loose ball and returned the fumble for a touchdown that pushed Tucson’s lead 14-3.
Former Arizona Rattlers quarterback Matt Behrendt received the start under center for Tucson and he didn’t disappoint in the first half.
Behrendt found former Scottsdale Community College wide receiver Shaquan Curenton for the first passing touchdown of the game.
When the broadcast started working, Behrendt showed off his feet right on cue with a 15-yard touchdown late in the second quarter that helped provide the Sugar Skulls with a 35-24 lead at halftime.
Even though Behrendt had two of Tucson’s five touchdowns in the first half, Coleman installed Jake Medlock at quarterback in the second half.
Medlock was a late addition to the team after leading the IFL in passing yards in 2018 for the Cedar Rapids Titans. Changing quarterbacks were always a part of the game plan for Coleman.
“They’re both capable of being starters in this league,” Coleman said. “We’re very fortunate to have two guys like that. Matt came in and set the tone and was making the right reads and got us a couple of scores and got the offense rolling.”
Medlock’s opening drive resulted in a touchdown for the Strike Force after he fumbled the ball on the 5-yard line, which resulted in a scoop-and-score. Medlock responded with a 29-yard touchdown to wide receiver Donovan Rasberry and another one to Curenton right before the end of the third quarter.
Two different quarterbacks in the first game of the season didn’t force the Sugar Skulls to derail.
“Both are two great quarterbacks with two different styles of play, but both executed the game very well,” Curenton said.
“They came in and lead us as one and take part in what they gotta do and they lead us down the field every time. Execute, execute, execute.”
Although San Diego clawed back at Tucson’s lead, Curenton and Mike Jones’ six combined touchdowns were enough to give the Sugar Skulls their first win in franchise history.
Sugar Skulls defensive back Dee Maggitt put the game away with a last-minute interception, and Tucson added a safety in the final 30 seconds.
“It’s a real big win for the organization,” Curenton said. “We wanted to come out and set the tone early. Even though we’re a first-year team, we have big goals and that’s to win a championship in the first year.”
The Sugar Skulls will play in their home opener at 3 p.m. Sunday against the Bismarck Bucks at Tucson Arena.
Bismarck lost 66-44 at Nebraska in its opener.